Let’s talk about plants, and more specifically gardening and what I’m growing this year!
Gardening has always been an important activity in my life. Growing up my mom would bring me outside every year and we would plant a few vegetables and fruits and watch them grow. Early on, it was easier things to grown and of course being in California made it even easier as the weather is nice and the sun shines almost always. The typical garden was strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins but we always looked at other plants and often would include herbs, of course flowers, and whatever else we felt would be fun to grow.
Some of the things we grew we no doubt enjoyed but others were there for the fun of it and sharing with others. I will never forget one of the first houses in my home town was on a court and although we loved growing tomatoes we never really ate them. At the end of the court was an older couple with the nicest golden retriever, Copper. The couple loved tomatoes so it was a standard practice to take the harvest over to them to enjoy, sometimes bowls full of tomatoes. Obviously this was also a chance to scratch Copper’s belly and get some puppy love.
In college I never had the chance to keep up this tradition. I either lived on campus or in a place without space to grow, and I stayed every summer to work and didn’t spend a lot of time at home to have a garden. After college though, I knew this was one tradition I had to keep up and now as an adult I wanted to learn more to be better at gardening for my bounty and for the natural world we live in.
Moving to a new state and a new place in the country was a big shift in this yearly tradition. Back in California you can grow through the winter various crops and spring/summer gardening was typically started super early on, like February or March. Missouri on the other hand has a last freeze as late as mid-April. This put a big change into the planning for the garden. Instead of nice and early, the garden didn’t get started until March with prepping a space to grow and then getting plants to take care of.
Being in a new space is really exciting and prepping a new garden bed is always really fun and creative. We opened up some of the yard by renting a more heavy duty rotor-till. This made it a lot easier to open up the top soil after being unused for years. The soil actually had a really great texture to it. Since not much has been done, it has had years to allow natural “weeds” and other local plant life to flourish and tend to the Earth. The only noticeable problem that I needed to take care of was some flooding I noticed over the winter. This can be done easily by adding some sand to loosen the soil and help with better drainage. After some rain and seeing the last of the problem spots, along with mixing in some good old manure and compost to add some nutrients to the soil, it was ready to plant.
Along with a different time to grow in this region, there is also a different climate here for what I can grow and grow well. Certainly there’s a lot of plants that grow in many regions but being in a moister part of the country with humidity and rain through the summer, this wasn’t going to be like past years in California where it’s hot, sunny, and dry as fuck. Honestly though, this is the best part. Getting to grow new things I never could before! First on that list was berries and corn.
I’ve grown corn in the past in California. It does grow out there, but since I now live close to the great plains I figured having some corn would be nice. Along with the benefit of delicious corn to eat over the summer. I also wanted to include some colored native corns that I could grind into flour. Part of growing your own food also includes learning what grows with others. Corn is part of an Indigenous tradition called the Three Sisters. The technique is that corn, squash, and beans work well together to grow and support each other. I love beans, I love squash, and doing corn was already a plan. This also helps me learn to increase the health of my garden space.
This first to be planted is the corn. The corn grows tall and creates a stalk the beans can grow up. The beans come second, taking a lot of nitrogen from the air and put it into the ground for the corn to use to grow. The squash, being the last to be planted, shades the soil below to help with weed prevention and water retention. As someone trying to use no pesticides on my plants this was a great place to start along with other companion plants I’ve used in the past.
I’m very happy to use the space I am in and expand what I normally grow to include these systems to help. By converting two smaller areas into a larger one, we filled in some space that had been neglected. This created a huge space to do a lot more than I have ever done. The Three Sisters alone get their own space where some plants had died and been empty next to the house. Great strip to spread them out. I also have pots saved that I can use for even more plants so this year I should be getting a lot that I can use in the kitchen!
Now let’s talk about what I have growing! First off the corn. I found Baker Creek Seed Co. online and they are based not far from here so of course they were my source for some heirloom seeds. They have a great variety and I love having unique species. The corn I found along with standard sweet corn were Atomic Orange corn that can be eaten off the cob and then Montana Lavender corn. The lavender corn is better dried and ground into a flour so of course I needed to try something new than just off the cob enjoyment. To plant with corn for the Three Sisters technique, I found a Cherokee bean and Purple beans. As for the squash of course pumpkins had to be included along with some Grey Zucchini and Cucumbers.
Leaving the Three Sisters zone I also wanted to do tomatoes because now as an adult I love them. We found a few starters at a local nursery that were various heirloom varieties like Big Boy, Yellow Pear Shaped, and Black Cherry tomatoes. There’s a few others but honestly I forget what we plant most the time and just enjoy what grows and I can harvest. Like I mentioned I wanted berries, so we did some Raspberries and Blackberries. I really wanted to get a currant plant but I read that it commonly carries a mold that can devastate a native tree to this region so will forgo those to be safe. We have a ton of pepper plants both sweet like Bell peppers and Sweet Banana peppers. Also some hot like Hot Banana, Jalapeno, and my dad really wants to try a Carolina Reaper. I also bought a few seeds of heirloom varieties but I’m going to hold onto them for now. We also made a small strawberry patch near a new sandbox my nephews get so they can enjoy a berry without having to stop playing.
As a chef my favorite thing to grow are herbs. We got a lot of Basil, a Sage bush since I left my old one in California, a new Rosemary bush since my old one also was left behind, and threw out seeds for Oregano, Parsley, and Cilantro. Also got a small Lavender plant, some Roman Chamomile, and some Thyme. There is a small patch with some Lettuce and Arugula that will be more shaded so they won’t burn up in the sun. Then the rest of the garden bed was filled in with a bunch of various native and/or edible flowers so that the pollinators will want to hang out with us and get a good diet in this area!
Man that was a lot to list off… But I told you it was a bigger bed than I’ve ever had before! It was so great to get my hands in the soil and get this garden going. Some of the planting was done with “help” from my nephews which makes me even happier to share this with them and help them appreciate Mother Earth as they get older. Plus, as things start to get ready for harvest they can enjoy the feeling of picking and eating straight from the ground and see how amazing plants and the planet can be.
Well that’s the garden this year so far! As with my gardening style things may change. We lost a couple plants and replaced them already and that happens. I want to enjoy what I can from the garden but at the end of the day 1) I’m not using any chemicals to force more growth, and 2) although I get something out of it, the #1 reason I do this is for the natural world right outside my door. Including a variety of flowers and plants pollinators can enjoy, fruits and vegetables that some birds can pick at, and just allowing the soil the get something other than a mono culture like grass or non-native species that will spread and harm the natural order in this area.
Make sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook to see updates on what is happening in the garden, get some insight on what I do to help it out, and know what is looking good and ready to eat! I know you’ll see some of it come over on here as well, especially when I do some cooking. For now though, rest, care, and wait.